Dallas — Jac Alder, co-founder and Executive Director-Producer of Theatre Three, one of North Texas’ longest running theaters, died of respiratory failure on Friday at Baylor Hospital. He was 80.
Alder was hospitalized about a month ago with pneumonia, but had been released. He had long dealt with lymphoma. That hospital stay happened at the same time as another devastating loss for Theatre Theatre and the North Texas arts community, Terry Dobson, who died while in New York.
When Alder was hospitalized, he had begun directing David Ives’ comedy The Liar, which B.J. Cleveland took over. That production will continue running through May 31.
In a Facebook message, Cleveland wrote “The shows continue this weekend as Jac would want.” And in message on the Theatre Three page, it notes that Jac would say “See you at the theater!”
Alder was born on Dec. 8, 1934 in Oklahoma and studied architecture at the University of Oklahoma. While serving overseas in the military, he became involved with a touring theater group, which is when he fell in love with the art form. He ended up in Dallas, and on the heels of Margo Jones' legendary Theatre ’47, which ran through 1955 (when she died), Alder and his soon-to-be wife Norma Young started Theatre Three in 1961.
Only a handful of area theaters that are still running—Dallas Summer Musicals, Dallas Theater Center and Fort Worth's Casa Mañana—predate it. Alder was the longest serving artistic director of any professional theater in the country.
In November 2014, he wrote in his monthly Bit by Bit column for TheaterJones: “When I was young—yes, a while back now—I was drawn to the arts (dance, music, theatre, painting and drawing plus architecture) because I was convinced I had something to say that would reveal this small-town Okie boy was someone who had something to say that everyone should hear.”
And everyone heard.
Over the years, Alder has not only been a consummate director and actor (he was last honored with an acting award by the Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum in 2013 for his performance in T3’s Freud’s Last Session), but he has always been a fierce advocate for the arts, speaking out loudly to policy-makers and politicians about the importance of funding the arts and other arts issues.
Terry Martin, the Artistic Director of Addison’s WaterTower Theatre, never worked with Alder in a show, but says Alder was encouraging of him when he arrived in Dallas from New York and began auditioning around town.
“I auditioned for him several times and I got to know him as an actor,” Martin says. “He never cast me but he always had nice things to say to me. … When I started leading a theater he was so supportive. He was encouraging as a young leader beginning to run a theater. He encouraged me to have an opinion and stick to my opinion.”
“What I learned from him was watching him from afar and how graceful and well he ran that theater and how much respect he garnered from the community. His grace and humor and his way with people was an inspiration to me,” Martin adds.
Kevin Moriarty, the Artistic Director of Dallas Theater Center, has only known Alder for the eight years that he has been in Dallas, but says Alder's importance cannot be understated.
"Jac Alder was a friend to me, as he was to so many of us in the Dallas theater community," Moriarty says. "His death is a cause of great sorrow for everyone who loved him, but it is also an opportunity for us to reflect upon his life. Because of Jac's remarkable leadership, Theatre Theatre has provided outstanding art for our community for more than 50 years. His commitment to collaboration has been an inspiration to all of us, as has his love for artists and his steadfast belief that North Texas could support a great, thriving theater community. Theatre Three stands as an enduring testament to his artistic vision and the power of his belief.
"On a personal level, I will miss our lively conversations, often long breakfasts filled with Jac's entertaining anecdotes, insights, wit and the positive energy and great warmth with which he inspired me and made me feel welcome from the moment I first arrived in Dallas. He is irreplaceable."
Alder championed many playwrights and theatermakers over the years, including Stephen Sondheim, who he convinced to visit Dallas when Theatre Three staged The Frogs in 1994. A number of other now-successful playwrights worked with Alder early in their careers, including Pulitzer Prize winners Beth Henley, who received her Equity Card at Theatre Three, and Doug Wright, who started ushering at Theatre Three when he was a student at Highland Park High School. Wright wrote the part of the Marquis de Sade in his play Quills for Larry O'Dwyr, an actor he worked with at T3.
The 2015-16 season, the final season selected by Alder, was recently announced, and it features classic and new American plays and musicals, including Inherit the Wind, which had its world premiere at Margo Jones' theater in Dallas.
Memories and tributes have been pouring out on social media. Plans for a memorial and celebrations of his life have not been announced yet, but rest assured, they will happen. Alder would expect nothing less than a full-out theater party.
This story will be updated in the coming days. Free free to leave your thoughts about Alder in the comments.
» Below is a video of the Jac Alder puppet designed by Dallas Puppet Theater and Michael Robinson, giving his curtain speech before the 2013 production of Avenue Q: